HC Deb 15 September 2004 vol 424 cc496-504WH 4.23 pm
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)

I appreciate that this has been a difficult afternoon in terms of the timing and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important subject. Why have the debate today? Over the past couple of years, I have wanted to raise the profile of sport and of physical education and activity, as well as the role that they can play not just in schools but right across society in tackling many problems, such as increasing obesity and social exclusion, and in respect of the health agenda. All those things are important.

I hope that this afternoon, a couple of years into the Government's programme to increase participation in school sports, we will hear from the Minister how it is going and what more we can do to encourage even more participation, and that we can talk about some issues that hold us back in this country.

I have to admit that when one or two hon. Members saw my name on the Order Paper again this week and knew that there would be another debate on sport, a few groans went up. It is important to recognise that a number of our colleagues in this place do not enjoy sport and particularly did not enjoy school sport. Looking around the Chamber, I can see that there are no Members present who had that experience.

We must recognise that sometimes we tend to talk among ourselves. Those who are passionate about sport feel that it has great benefit, but there are many who have had poor experiences. Perhaps they were the last ones to be picked underneath the rugby posts or the goalposts at school, or they were forced to do cross-country on a miserable, wet Wednesday afternoon. I have to admit that, as a sprinter, I never really appreciated the need to do cross-country, but it is part of school sport.

I want to ensure that this debate on school sport links in with others that I have secured, as well as those that I hope to secure, so that we have a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of sport. I would like to encourage mass participation through the school system to drive this agenda forward. We need to ensure that the school sports co-ordinators link in ably with the local clubs through the national governing bodies such as UK Sport, Sport England and Sports Coach UK. All those organisations can ensure that there is talent identification, and the elite performance directors can ensure that across the country individuals who have potential fulfil it.

I am lucky in my Loughborough constituency to have one of the regional hubs of the English Institute of Sport. We were very glad to have 43 constituents at the Olympics. Unfortunately, only two came back with medals. My heart still goes out to Paula Radcliffe, who put so much effort into her performance. She had come through the school system, benefited from lottery funding and reached the elite level. Her story demonstrates how difficult it is to achieve at that level.

It is important that if individuals and Members such as me have a passion for this issue, we keep it high on our radar, but also on that of the Government. We must not let it slip. There was some welcome news over the summer in response to what was happening in Athens. Some myths had been going around that Governments have not been in favour of competitive school sport, so it was good to see Ministers outlining the situation clearly. I was pleased to see an answer from the Minister only this week:

The Government are firmly in favour of competitive school sport."—[Official Report, 13 September 2004; Vol. 424, c. 1445W.] "Hear, hear!" say I, along with the many others who want to see our country and the nation as a whole doing well at school sport. That can be translated into a lifelong love of sport, and then to people participating at an elite level.

We must remind ourselves how badly we were doing as a country just a decade ago in terms of school sport. Looking around the Chamber, I see a generation of people who experienced the teachers' strikes in the early 1980s, at which point the emphasis changed. Teachers' relationship with school sport turned everything on its head so that there has been a 20-year gap. I know from my experience at the rugby club where I play every weekend—I am still one of the younger players, although I shall be 40 this Friday—that there has been a generational gap among those coming through the school system. It is now dependent on the clubs to reinvest, which clearly demonstrates the need for the school-club link in the future.

I am pleased that the Government have committed substantial sums of money to school sport, including the £459 million going into the school sport partnership programme. Nearly £700 million is going into facilities. I want to talk separately about those two, which are both important in their own right as they highlight the issues that we need to tackle.

I referred earlier to some of my colleagues not having a love of sport, which unfortunately translates across to school level. That was demonstrated only too clearly in the slightly outdated report "Sport Uncovered", produced by Adidas in 1999-2000. Nike has also conducted research on women's and girls' participation in sport. One of the problems is that it still seems really uncool, and some comments from youngsters illustrated the problems that we have. Many teachers who have stuck at teaching some form of physical education in school deserve credit for what they have done because their work has been carried out almost on a volunteer basis. We depend on those people. If it was not for them—I have been looking at comments over the past year or so from youngsters who have drifted away from sport—we would be in even greater difficulty.

However, because we are investing money in the school sports co-ordinators, the partnerships and the other little programmes, the balance is starting to shift. I was pleased to see in the Ofsted report earlier this year that the quality of the teaching of physical education and sport in schools is improving. However, there is still a long way to go. The Government's target that 75 per cent. of children should have two hours a week of high-quality physical education in school by 2006 still means that by then one in four children will not be getting what I consider the absolute minimum requirement.

The big debate has been over the two hours—whether it should be within or without the curriculum. I can live with it being outside the curriculum, but I would prefer it if the two hours were a definite that were tied into it, in the same way that we have the literacy and numeracy hours. Physical education and physical activity from five to 16 are that important.

I was delighted to see that 50 per cent. of schools are now into the,school partnerships. Having an elite university in my constituency, with a sports specialist college—Burleigh—right next door, including its partnership and the group of schools around it, I can see how it all works. Sports co-ordinators are making a difference bit by bit. For example, we were pleased that two or three years ago, two children from Burleigh won the national tennis competition. For the first time, a non-private school won it. Strangely enough, a number of private schools then tried to recruit those two individuals. That shows that—given the right coaching, facilities, backing and opportunities—anybody can achieve a great deal.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this latest in a series of debates on sport. I come to the debate not only as an MP but as an avid sports lover and a parent of two boys who both play cricket at county level for Yorkshire, one of whom is also an international badminton player. Given that that is a personal and exhausting perspective, does my hon. Friend accept my contention that young people—irrespective of their age, ability or gender—need to be brought into contact with dynamic and enthusiastic coaches across the widest possible range of sports? They are the ones who can enthuse young people, point them towards clubs and facilities, and, importantly, help to engage the parents. Does he agree that schools are the best way of doing that?

Mr. Reed

I am grateful for that intervention, because it ties into what I have been trying to say. There is a twin-track approach to this matter. It is important to get the facilities right, so that the best ones are available across the range of sports. However, even before Loughborough university got the new 50m pool, swimmers were coming from around the world to be based there because of the quality of the coaches and because of their enthusiasm. We had a horrible 1950s swimming pool, but those people still came.

I learned to play volleyball simply because of the enthusiasm of a teacher who had played it at international level and gave lessons after school on a Thursday to those who were keen to take part. The enthusiasm of that individual brought me into a sport that otherwise was not available. Every now and then I still manage to get out there and do a bit of setting; it would be good to play a little more. I will try to get a parliamentary side together, as that is one of the few teams that we do not have in this House. I am pleased to say that the English Volleyball Association is now based in my constituency and we are trying to get the national governing bodies in as well.

It is crucial that we get the two things that I mentioned right. That comes through in the report. It is quite clear that if teachers, or coaches who are brought in from the national governing bodies through the school-club links, demonstrate that level of enthusiasm to individuals, they will participate. The facilities are also necessary. Part of the problem is that our experience is of dirty, dingy areas. If we want children to stay after school hours, particularly when it is dark, we need well-lit areas.

What people want to do in terms of school sport is another issue. In most places, during the winter, boys do football or rugby and girls probably do hockey. During the summer there is a choice of cricket, athletics or netball, and a bit of rounders. The research shows that the reality these days is that lots of boys and girls want a much wider range of activities, and the media expose them—especially the girls—to many more sports. Football is the fastest-growing girls' sport, yet only 22 per cent. of them get exposed to girls' football at school. They also want to do basketball. That seems to be a growing area in which people, particularly girls, want to do a bit more.

There is much work to do in broadening the experience. It would be impossible in an average-sized primary or secondary school to obtain such a wide range of experience in the teaching staff, which is why that club-school link is vital. A co-ordinated approach means not only local clubs in sports such as basketball but local professional clubs. In Leicestershire, Leicester Tigers, Leicester City football club, Leicester Riders basketball team and the county cricket side do an excellent job to ensure that their talented players, including some academy members and some superstars, go into schools.

One of the greatest things after the Olympics was seeing Kelly Holmes returning to her school, taking a lesson and seeing the enthusiasm on the children's faces for having a go at athletics. That is vital, and it is why we must have enthusiastic teachers and coaches as well as club links in place. We must also ensure, particularly for girls, that children have sporting heroes to look up to and emulate. There are very few role models—people they would look up to and want to be like—for girls.

Research among girl footballers showed that they wanted to be like David Beckham. Would it not be great if they were able to name the captain of the women's football team? There is a great opportunity for enthusiasm to grow when we host the women's European championship next year. That is important, because sport is a good thing and we now have the obesity time bomb. For the first time in a generation, our life expectancy could be reducing instead of increasing. Some 20 per cent. of children are obese, and we must tackle that through physical education, nutritional and dietary requirements at school, and encouraging people to eat and live sensibly. We have them captured at school.

I know from my son's experience that a bit of tennis and physical activity—footie does not tire him out quite enough, but we can work on that—gives him an opportunity to do a variety of sports with his classmates, yet all the figures show that unfortunately we are still at the bottom of all international tables. We are still at the bottom when it comes to people participating in intensive, regular, competitive or organised sport at school. The UK is top of one league table, as 29 per cent. of us are involved in intensive, irregular competitive or organised sports.

The way we can achieve our targets is to try to involve not only the Department for Education and Skills. I am pleased to see the Minister in the Chamber and I would like to hear what further measures there are to ensure a co-ordinated approach.

Indeed, sport is not the only winner. As the report produced by, among others, the Rugby Football Union, the Lawn Tennis Association, UK Athletics and the Central Council for Physical Recreation and entitled "Everybody Wins: Social Inclusion and Sport" makes clear, with crime reduction and health improvements, every Department wins from sport. The individuals who have benefited from their involvement in school sport go on, not necessarily to win gold medals but to participate throughout their life perhaps to veteran level. We must ensure that children have positive role models to look up to. There is lots of scope for them to get involved, and we must assist teachers and volunteers from clubs when they are trying their hardest.

When I became chair of East Midlands Sport, I was bamboozled by the number of initiatives in sport, not necessarily from the Department, but from Sport England and all those other organisations. I wonder whether we can work through that. If we consider athletics, for example, it is difficult to see who is running what and who is responsible for what. In schools, we have the Youth Sport Trust, the National Council for School Sport, school sports co-ordinators supported by Sport England and the new talented athlete scholarship scheme. I wonder whether it is possible to co-ordinate them to ensure that the basics of school sport are put higher up the agenda.

I am pleased to see a number of professional sports doing their bit. Even for older sportspeople such as ourselves in this place, if there is an international attending an event we are willing to get involved. We played a game of rugby at Twickenham two weeks ago. I find it difficult sometimes to get Members of Parliament to play in our rugby games, but give us the opportunity to run out on to the turf at Twickenham, which was hosting the Saracens and Wasps game, in front of 51,000 people and we do it. At school level, bringing in professional footballers, local cricket and rugby heroes, hockey players or others who are known locally makes an enormous difference; it comes back to the idea of having positive role models for individuals to look up to.

On the gender issue, people used to say to girls, "You don't have to worry about exercise if you are not overweight; you'll end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger." We will not go into that, but many such comments show that people are fearful, not just slightly ambivalent, about getting involved in sport. There is a lot of work to be done.

A 13-year-old boy from Birmingham—not my five-year-old son from Loughborough—said:

Sport gets you going for a good life, or else you could be fat like my dad. That sums it up. Sport gets people going for life and gives them the opportunity to take it forward. They may want to join a local club and run at local level for the rest of their lives and go no further. Nevertheless, school sport is the foundation for all other sport in this country. If we are to succeed with the 2012 Olympics, we must start ensuring that 100 per cent. of our children get at least two hours a week of it now, not later.

4.41 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) on securing this important debate. I feel the need to place it on the record, in the light of his opening remarks, that I was one of those who was among the last to be chosen at school sport. I still bear the scars. However, even after that experience, I acknowledge the great importance of physical education and sport. My hon. Friend has powerfully placed on the record the case for those things and their importance. I congratulate him—on behalf of everyone in the Chamber, I am sure—on his birthday this Friday.

There is a real determination, which is shared throughout the House, to increase participation in school sport and ensure that opportunities are provided. The two hours a week is a minimum, but we want to see schools achieving it sooner rather than later. The national strategy on school sport is about turning that ambition, on which my hon. Friend spoke so eloquently, into a reality in schools and communities across the country. It is worth recognising that this strategy follows years of decline and underfunding as well as a lack of focus on physical education and sport in our schools, including, as he rightly reminded the House, the central role of competitive sports. I am pleased to have the opportunity to place clearly on the parliamentary record what was said over the summer, to which he referred.

We have an ambitious public service agreement target to increase the proportion of five to 16-year-olds who spend at least two hours a week on PE and school sport to 75 per cent. by 2006 and 85 per cent. by 2008. We want all children to be given the opportunity to take up that entitlement. Physical education and sport have a crucial part to play in so many different respects, very much for the reasons that my hon. Friend set out and not least in helping to secure and promote the health of our nation. Last week, we published the healthy living blueprint, which brings together our Department and the Department of Health to address a range of issues, including food in schools, what is taught in the curriculum and, importantly, physical education, sport and physical activity. The more we can break down barriers between the different elements in schools, as well as between different Departments, the more likely we are to be successful.

My hon. Friend spoke about the impact of the strategy. We have the school sport partnerships, to which he referred. Around half the schools in England are already part of the network of 313 partnerships, and pupils are benefiting from them. Alongside those schemes we are creating a network of sports specialist colleges—an important part of the specialist schools movement—which provide enhanced quality facilities, as well as learning and teaching in schools, and, importantly, act as a hub for other schools, including primary and special schools in the local community.

That is very much about sharing best practice, organising activities—including competitions—and building and strengthening subject leadership. That is particularly true in the primary sector, because the earlier we get it right, the more likely it is that we will get all the benefits, including an enthusiasm for sport and the health and broader educational benefits to which my hon. Friend referred.

An important component is to achieve professional development for all schools to access, and I am pleased to say that Leicestershire helped us to pilot the programme last year. Thousands of teachers are already benefiting from the programme. It is in part about strengthening the links between schools and clubs, and offering—through, for example, the step into sport programme—leadership and volunteering opportunities for young people. The national sport strategy is investing over £8 million and working with the 22 national governing bodies of sport to enhance club links and bring more coaches into schools.

We are starting to see the benefits of the programme, and my hon. Friend referred to some of them. The latest evidence is that, in schools taking part in the partnership programmes, 62 per cent. of pupils are spending at least two hours in a typical week on high-quality physical education and school sport. We are on course to deliver the 2006 target, but I recognise his point that we need to aspire to go beyond it. We need to achieve the target, but if we can go beyond it, so much the better.

That is remarkable progress, if we compare the position with what was happening in those schools in partnership just three years ago. On average, 68 per cent. of pupils do two hours of sport each week in the schools that have been part of a partnership for three years, compared with only half—52 per cent.—in schools that joined the partnerships in September 2003. That is a remarkable 16 percentage point difference. We want to build on that.

The survey also showed that 96 per cent. of schools hold a sports day, so there is an important element of competitive sports. Just over one in five pupils take part in intra-school sports competitions, and one in three took part in such competitions within their own schools—that is, in inter-school sports competitions—during the last academic year.

We also found that almost one in 10 pupils in years 10 to 13—the upper years of secondary school—from the partnership schools are actively involved in sports, leadership and volunteering—for example, participating in work in primary schools and sports clubs. One in five in years 2 to 11 are participating in clubs linked to schools. That is progress, but clearly we need to build on it if we are to ensure that the programme makes a sustained difference in the long term. There is no room for complacency; we need to consolidate what has been achieved, press on and do more. In particular, as my hon. Friend said, we must do more to widen participation among all parts of the community. For example, we need to encourage our youngest children in schools and we have to get more girls, pupils from ethnic minorities and those with special needs to take up their entitlement to physical education and sport.

On facilities, the national schools sport strategy is investing in the people and tools needed to transform physical education and increase participation. In the five-year strategy for children and learners set out by the Secretary of State in July, we said that one of our key secondary reforms was a commitment to refurbish or rebuild every secondary school to a modern standard over the next 10 to 15 years through the building schools for the future programme.

Mr. Reed

I am delighted that we have some fantastic facilities—when I look around the school where I regularly play rugby, I see that it has what is required—but they are not used for much of the time. There seems to be general agreement that not enough school facilities are used 24/7, although there appears to be no further progress. Will the Minister take that on board and ensure that we start to use all those facilities 24/7?

Mr. Twigg

That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend asks an important question that has relevance for sports facilities for young people, as well as sport and other facilities for the whole community. The sense of the school being the hub of the community is an important component of the policy, both as part of the building schools for the future programme and, more broadly, as part of the idea of opening up and extending school facilities. That has relevance in rural as well as urban areas, and we can pursue it further in debates here and in the main Chamber of the House.

We are supporting capital investment for school buildings at around £4.5 billion this year. That is a very considerable increase compared with the position we inherited in 1997—a sevenfold increase in the schools capital budget. It will rise to £5 billion next year.

My hon. Friend referred to the money that is going to particular programmes—for example, space for sport and the arts and the new opportunities for PE and sport lottery programme—to bring about a step improvement in school sports facilities across the country. More than 3,000 schools will benefit directly, and as the new facilities need to be opened up and shared with other schools and the wider community, I am confident that many more schools will benefit from this. As part of that, Leicestershire has funding of about £3.5 million and nine projects have already been awarded grants and given the green light to start work.

My hon. Friend referred to the success of Burleigh school in winning the tennis competition. I join him in congratulating it on that and, more broadly, in welcoming the work that is going on through the Burleigh school sport partnership in Loughborough. I want to put on the record thanks to Adele Hickling, the partnership development manager, for the excellent work that is going on. Already, 57 per cent.of pupils in that partnership are able to take up their two-hour entitlement, and I know that it is working very hard to build on and improve that.

An above-average number of pupils are involved in competitive school sport there, and all the schools hold a sports day with a massive 19 per cent.—one in five—of year 11 pupils across the partnership taking part in leadership and volunteering. Some really good work is going on, in particular to include children with special needs and disabilities. In response to my hon. Friend, I say that that example is exactly the kind of best practice that we want to share.

I welcome the opportunity that a debate such as this, however short, gives for some of these things to be put on the record. What is critical now is that we—as a Government, in Parliament and more broadly—learn the lessons from those examples of good practice so that they become typical rather than exceptional beacons to which we can refer in debate. We want them to become the good practice of all our schools so that it can be shared and so that all children and young people get the entitlement to physical and sports education that I think everyone in the House agrees they deserve.